What can you do with a satellite the size of a small box of tissues?

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The Chasqui-1, a Peruvian satellite released into space on Aug. 18 by a Russian cosmonaut on a spacewalk, measures 4 inches by 4 inches by 4 inches—not very much larger than a standard Rubik’s Cube—and weighs just 2.2 pounds. Its mission: to take photos of Earth in both visible light and infrared.

The satellite (Chasqui means “messenger” in the Quechua language spoken by the Inca) is designed to give the National University of Engineering in Peru experience with emerging satellite technology, according to NASA. It will also broadcast on the amateur radio frequency, letting anyone with a ham radio tune in to learn about the mission. Watch the video of the launch here.

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev throws Chasqui-1 away from the ISS, launching it into space.
Image: Video from space.com; gif by Elizabeth Lopatto

Chasqui-1 was built using CubeSat technology, developed by California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and Stanford University’s Space Systems Development Lab. CubeSats minimize the cost of creating satellites by using commercially available technology, and have been used by high schools and universities as educational tools; they allow engineering students to design, develop and test a real satellite and its ground components.

They’re classed as nanosatellites, and are often tacked on to other missions because they are so tiny. A fleet of CubeSats was launched from the ISS earlier this year.

Other nanosatellites in orbit mostly exist to test new technology in navigation, propulsion, and energy. Some satellites, like Quakefinder’s Quakesat, carry out their own missions; Quakesat is meant to monitor earthquakes. And NASA launched GeneSat to study how the bacteria E. coli grows in space. The capabilities vary based on what experiments the satellites are meant to perform, but they are all small and cheap to build and launch—costing as little as $150,000.